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< 023211 > EXODUS 32:11-14 In our last article we were occupied with the inspired account of Israel’s idolatrous worship of the golden calf. It was the first time that they were guilty of this awful sin since their leaving of Egypt as a nation. The subject of idolatry is both solemn and important, and as the nature and cause of it are so little understood we propose to offer here a few general remarks on the subject.
Man is the only creature who lives on the earth that was originally created with faculties capable of apprehending God, and with a sentiment of veneration for Him. True, all creation is to the praise of the Creator, but man’s praise is the homage of an intelligent heart and of a conscious choice or preference. But this capacity to offer intelligent praise is necessarily accompanied by responsibility. This was made evident in connection with Adam. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was the visible means of the first man’s paying homage to God: abstention from its fruit was the witness of his subjection to the authority of his Maker. Obedience to God’s command concerning that tree would not only secure to him all the blessings of Eden, but was also the link which bound him to the Creator.
But that link was broken. Through disobedience man became “alienated from the life of God” ( Ephesians 4:18), and thus he lost his happiness and was turned out of the Garden. The original link being broken, it could never be reformed. If man was ever again to be in relationship with God, it must be on entirely new ground, namely, redemption-ground, resurrectionground, the ground of new creation. Into Eden fallen man could never reenter.
It was a garden of delights for innocence alone; and guilt once incurred made a return to it impossible. But for His own people God has provided a new garden, the “paradise of God” ( Revelation 2:7), where the guilty are restored to more than the pleasures of Eden. That new garden is anticipated by faith, and there is found forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
Now when man fell, though he became alienated from God (which is what spiritual “death” is) he lost none of his original faculties, nor was his responsibility destroyed. in his essential nature man remained after the Fall all that he was before it. True, his nature became vitiated by sin, and, in consequence, his whole being was corrupted; nevertheless, the” breath of life” which God had breathed into him at the beginning, remained his portion after his expulsion from Eden. True, all the faculties of his being now became the “instrument of unrighteousness unto sin” ( Romans 6:13), yet none of them had ceased to exist or to function.
It is the very character of man’s nature (that which distinguishes him from and elevates him above the beasts) which has made his fall his ruin. It has been rather vulgarly said that “Man is a religious animal,” by which is meant that man, by nature, is essentially a religious creature, i.e., made, originally, to pay homage to his Creator. It is this religious nature of man’s which, strange as it may sound, lies at the root of all idolatry. Being alienated from God, and therefore ignorant of Him, he falls the ready dupe of Satan. It was to this fact of fallen man’s essential nature that Christ had reference when He said, “If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness” ( Matthew 6:23).
The “light” in man is that which distinguishes him from the beasts, and that which is (potentially) capable of communing with God. But, as we have said, that faculty in man which is capable of communion with God, is, as the result of sin, put to a wrong use, and thus the “light” in him has become “darkness.” Instead of worshipping God, he now serves his own lusts, and honors idols which are patterned after his lusts.
Man must have his god, otherwise he would not be man, and because the “natural man “ — what he now is as a fallen creature — has lost his knowledge of the true God, he turns to the resources of his own mind to fill the void. And, as another has said (from whom part of the above has been condensed), “From the mental image formed in a corrupt mind, it is but a short step to the golden or wooden idol in the temple. Every shape and form had its prototype in the imagination, which to the philosopher was supplemented by the material things of nature; but to the vulgar, surrounding objects were the basis upon which the superstructure of idolatry rested. Through the senses their imagination was fed by the things seen and felt; and though these be not the sole source of idolatry, they greatly modified its form and multiplied its gods. For the mountain and the valley, the river, the grove, the heavens above and the waters beneath had their divinities, and everywhere that which in nature most impressed man soon took rank as a god. “Nor let us forget the greatest factor which produced this confused mass of superstition and credulity. Not only did man not like to retain the knowledge of God and thus became the dupe of his senses, but over all was the delusive power of Satan, who held man in captivity through his fears and lusts. The loss of the knowledge of the true God, to a creature endowed with religious faculties, must result in subjective idolizing. Satan, the god of this world, presented himself in a tangible form and made it objective. “The religious element in man’s nature was not eradicated by sin, but while every faculty of his mind and every instinct of his nature is debased and perverted, man’s complete ruin and his greatest guilt are seen in the degradation of those same faculties, originally given as the means of worshipping God. The endowments which placed him above all other creatures, now sink him beneath them” (“The Bible Tresury, 1882).
What has been said above not only serves to explain the universality of idolatry, but supplies the key to what is recorded in Exodus 32. There we behold the favored Israelites making and worshipping a golden calf. It was inexcusable, open, blatant, united idolatry. For a very good reason, the first command which God had written, with His own finger, upon the tables of stone, was “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me”; and here was the deliberate and concerted violation of it. What, then, must be the sequel?
Jehovah turns to Moses, acquainted him with the awful sin of the people down below, and says, “Now there- fore let me alone, that My wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation.” Solemn and fearsome as those words sound, yet a closer examination reveals a door of hope opened by them. When the Lord said to Moses, “Let Me alone.... I will make of thee a great nation,” it was as though He placed Himself in the hands of the typical mediator. “Let Me alone” plainly suggests that Moses stood between Jehovah and His sinful people. This was indeed the case.
But for Moses they were surely lost: he only stood between the holy wrath of God and their thoroughly merited doom. What would he do? When menaced by the Egyptians at the Red Sea, Moses had cried unto the Lord on their behalf ( 14:15). So, too, at the bitter waters of Marah he had supplicated Jehovah for them ( 15:25). When at Rephidim they had no water, yet again Moses had cried unto the Lord and obtained answer on their behalf ( 17:4). When Amelek came against Israel, it was the holding up of Moses’ hands which gained them the victory ( 17:11). But now a far graver crisis was at hand. Would Moses fail them now? or would he again intervene on their behalf? “And Moses besought the Lord his God, and said, Lord, why doth Thy wrath wax hot against Thy people, which Thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?” (v. 11).
Moses did not fail his people in this hour of their urgent need. Most blessed is it to behold how he conducted himself on this occasion: God had said to him, “Let me alone, that My wrath may wax hot against them.... and I will make of thee a great nation,” but Moses uses his place of nearness to God not on his own behalf, but for the good of the people. At an earlier date he had “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward” ( Hebrews 11:24-26).
So now he declines to be made the head of another nation, choosing rather to be identified with this stiff-necked and disobedient people. Is there not here a blessed foreshadowing of Him who “made Himself of no reputation” ( Philippians 2:7), and who became one with His sinful people? Yes, indeed; and, as we shall see, in more respects than one. “And Moses besought the Lord his God, and said, Lord, why doth Thy wrath wax hot against Thy people, which Thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?” This was the typical mediator’s response to what Jehovah had said to him in v. 7, “Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves.”
We believe there is a double force to these words. In their local significance they furnish God’s answer to the wicked declaration of Israel recorded in v. 1. There the people had disowned their Divine Deliverer; here He righteously disclaims them. But there is a typical meaning, too, and most precious is it to contemplate this. In v. 7 the Lord practically turns the Nation over to Moses, calling them “thy people”; here in v. 11 the typical mediator, as it were, gives them back again unto God, saying “Thy people.” Was not this a plain adumbration of what we find in John 17?
First, in v. 2, the antitypical Mediator speaks of a people whom God had given to Him: “As Thou hast given Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as Thou hast given Him.” Then, in v. 9, we behold Him giving back that people to God, “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given Me; for they are Thine.” Let us notice now the various grounds upon which Moses pleaded before “the Lord his God.” They are three in number: he appealed to the grace of God, the glory of God, and the faithfulness of God. His appeal to God’s grace is found in v. 11, “Lord, why doth Thy wrath wax hot against Thy people, which Thou hast brought forth out of the laud of Egypt?”
It was grace, pure and simple, which had actuated Jehovah when He delivered the Hebrews from the House of Bondage. There was absolutely nothing in them to merit His esteem; rather was there everything in them to call forth His wrath. It was sovereign benignity, unadulterated grace, the Divine favor shown to them, unasked and unmerited.
But let it not be overlooked that the Divine grace which was shown to unworthy Israel was not exercised at the expense of the claims of justice, for it is ever true that grace reigns “through righteousness” ( Romans 5:21). So it was in Egypt: the passover-lamb had been slain, its blood shed and applied. Thus, it is on the ground of redemption that grace flowed forth. And it is still the same, “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” ( Romans 3:24).
Now it was to this that Moses made his first appeal. Israel had sinned, sinned grievously, and Moses made no effort to deny or excuse it. Later, we find him acknowledging the Lord’s charge against His people, owning “it is a stiff necked people” ( 34:9). Nevertheless, they were God’s people — His by redemption. They were His purchased property.
Unworthy, unthankful, unholy; but yet, the Lord’s redeemed. Blessed, glorious, heart-melting fact: O may the realization of it create within us a greater hatred of sin and a deeper appreciation of the precious blood of the Lamb. Is it not written, “If any man (Greek “any one” — of those spoken of in 1 John 1:3) sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” ( 1 John 2:1)? And what is the ground of His advocacy?
What but His blood shed once for all! “Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did He bring them out, to slay them in the mountain, and to consume them from the face of the earth?
Turn from Thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against Thy people” (v. 12). Here is the second ground on which Moses pleaded with God: he appealed to His glory. Where would be His honor in the sight of the heathen were He to consume the children of Israel here at Sinai? Would not reproach be cast upon His name by the Egyptians? The thought of this was more than Moses could endure; therefore did he beseech Jehovah to relent against His erring people. “Spite of their shameful apostasy, the plea of Moses was that they were still Gods’ people, and that His glory was concerned in sparing them — lest the enemy should boast over their destruction, and thereby over the Lord Himself. In itself it was a plea of irresistible force. Joshua uses one of like character when the Israelites were smitten before Ai. He says “the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land shall hear of it, and shall environ us round, and cut off our name from the earth: and what wilt Thou do unto Thy great name?’ ( Joshua 7:9. In both cases it was faith taking hold of God, identifying itself with His own glory, and claiming on that ground the response to its desires — a plea that God can never refuse” (Ed. Dennett).
This ground of appeal to God is not made by any of us today nearly as much as it should be. The prayer of Moses here in Exodus 32 is also recorded for our learning. It brings before us the essential elements of those “effectual fervent prayers of a righteous man” which “availeth much.” This was not the only occasion on which Moses appealed to the glory of the Lord’s name: let the reader consult carefully Numbers 14: 13- 16, and Deuteronomy 9:28,29; for others who used this plea, see Psalm 25:11; Joel 2:17, etc. It is the glory of His own name which God ever has before Him in all that He does.
It was for the honor of His name that He had, originally, brought Israel out of Egypt: “I wrought for My name’s sake, that it should not be polluted before the heathen, among whom they were, in whose sight I made Myself known unto them, in bringing them forth out of the land of Egypt” ( Ezekiel 20:9).
So, at a later date in Israel’s sinful history He declared, “For My name’s sake will I defer Mine anger, and for My praise will I refrain from thee, that I cut thee not off.... For Mine own sake, even for Mine own sake, will I do it: for how should My name be polluted?” ( Isaiah 48:9,11).
It is “for His name’s sake” “that He leads His people in the paths of righteousness” ( Psalm 23:3).
Blessed is it to behold the Lord Jesus in His high priestly prayer, recorded in John 17, using this same plea before God. In that prayer He is heard presenting many petitions, and varied are the grounds upon which He presents them. But underlying all, first and foremost He asked, “glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son also may glorify Thee” (v. 1)! Here is one of the prime secrets in prevailing prayer. Just as bowing of the heart to God’s sovereign will is the first requirement in a praying soul, so the having before us the glory of God and the honor of His name is that which, chiefly, ensures an answer to our petitions. “Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” ( 1 Corinthians 10:31) applies as strictly to our praying as to any other exercise. Let us take to heart, then, this important lesson taught us in this successful prayer of Moses. “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Thy servants, to whom Thou swearest by Thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it forever” (v. 13).
Here is the third ground which Moses took in his intercession before Jehovah. He appealed to His faithfulness; he pleaded His promises; he reminded Him of His oath. There was no ground to go on and no plea which he could make from anything that was to be found in Israel, so he fell back upon that which God is in Himself. “In the energy of his intercession — fruit surely of the action of the Spirit of God — he goes back to the absolute and unconditional promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, reminding the Lord of the two immutable things in which it was impossible for Him to lie ( Hebrews 6:18). A more beautiful example of prevailing intercession is not to be found in the Scriptures. Indeed, in the emergency which had arisen, everything depended on the mediator, and in His grace God had provided one who could stand in the breach, and plead His people’s cause — not on the ground of what they were, for by their sin they were exposed to the righteous indignation of a holy God — but on the ground of what God was, and on that of His counsels revealed and confirmed to the patriarchs, both by oath and promise” (Ed. Dennett).
But let us look a little more closely at this third feature of Moses’ prayer.
In the above quotation there are two slight inaccuracies: it was not God’s promises to “Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” but “and Israel” — the difference intimating the height to which Moses’ faith had risen; nor were God’s revealed counsels confirmed to the patriarchs “both by oath and by promise,” but, instead, by promise and oath — note the order in Hebrews 6:13-18, which is the same as in Genesis 12:3, and then Genesis 22:15,16. But that which we would here dwell upon is that Moses made these the final grounds of his pleading before God.
The Word of God is “quick and powerful” ( Hebrews 4:12), not only in its effects upon us, but also in its moving power with God Himself. If this were more realized by Christians, the very language of Holy Writ would have a larger place in their supplications, and more answers from above would be obtained. God has magnified His Word above all His name ( <19D802> Psalm 138:2), and so should we. He has expressly declared, “Them that honor Me, I will honor,” and how can we more honor Him in our prayers than by employing the very words of Scripture, His words, rather than our own? Ah, here too, our speech betrays us. If the Word of Christ dwelt in us more richly, it would find fuller expression in our intercessions, for “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” Christ has left us a perfect example: His prayers were the outbreathing of the Psalms, and a close examination of the one which He taught His disciples reveals the fact that every clause of it was a quotation from the O.T.! And He explicitly enjoined His disciples, “after this manner therefore pray ye” ( Matthew 6:9). But we do not; hence so many unanswered prayers.
Now that which Moses pleaded before God from His Word were the promises which He had made to the patriarchs. This, too, is recorded for our learning. It is the humble, simple, trustful spreading of the Divine promises before the throne of grace which secures the ear of God. That is what real prayer is: a presenting of our need before the Lord, and then reverently reminding Him of His own declaration that He will supply it. It is a confident asking with David, “Do as Thou hast said” ( 2 Samuel 7:25). This is what the “exercise of faith” signifies: a laying hold of God’s promises, an “embracing” ( Hebrews 11:13) of them, a counting upon them. “Hath He said, and shall He not do it? or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?” ( Numbers 23:19).
Men like a written agreement in “black and white,” and the great God has condescended to give us such. How strange, then, that we do not treat His promises as realities. Jehovah never trifles with His words: His engagements are always kept Joshua reminded Israel, “This day I am going the way of all the earth: and ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, not one thing hath failed thereof” ( Joshua 23:14).
Then let us seek grace to emulate Abraham, the father of all them that believe, of whom it is recorded, “He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was able also to perform” ( Romans 4:20,21). “And the Lord repented of the evil which He thought to do unto His people” (v. 14).
These words do not mean that God changed His mind or altered His purpose, for He is “without variableness or shadow of turning” ( James 1:17). There never has been and never will be the smallest occasion for the Almighty to affect the slightest deviation from His eternal purpose, for everything was foreknown to Him from the beginning, and all His counsels were ordered by infinite wisdom. When Scripture speaks of God’s repenting it employs a figure of speech, in which the Most High condescends to speak in our language. What is intended by the above expression is that Jehovah answered the prayer of the typical mediator. “And the Lord repented of the evil which He thought to do unto His people” (v. 14).
Blessed is it to note how Israel is still spoken of as “His people.” “What encouragement to faith! If ever there was an occasion when it seemed impossible that prayer should be heard, it was this; but the faith of Moses rose above all difficulties, and grasping the hand of Jehovah claimed His help; and, inasmuch as He could not deny Himself, the prayer of Moses was granted” (Ed. Dennett).
May this little meditation be blest of God to many to the enriching of thier spiritual lives.